Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Croce, the Chair of Human Cancer Genetics at Ohio State University (OSU), has published over 650 papers during his 45-year career; 12 were subject to corrections and two more were withdrawn with Croce’s consent. New York Times reporter Glanz emailed Croce, asking to discuss “promising anti-cancer” research. After a meeting, Glanz emailed Dr. Croce, stating that the scope of the story had broadened and that Glanz had made records requests at OSU and other institutions. Glanz later sent a letter on Times letterhead to OSU and to Croce with pointed questions, many of which followed allegations made by others against Croce. Croce retained counsel and responded, denying the allegations as “false and defamatory.” Glanz sent another email that contained additional allegations. Croce’s counsel again responded, denying each allegation. Ultimately, the Times published an article on its website (and social media) with the title, “Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass”; and text, “Dr. Carlo Croce was repeatedly cleared by Ohio State University, which reaped millions from his grants. Now, he faces new whistle-blower accusations.” The article appeared on the front page and above the fold in the printed edition and detailed various allegations against and criticisms of Croce. Croce brought defamation, false light, and intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. The article is a standard piece of investigative journalism that presents newsworthy allegations made by others, with appropriate qualifying language. View "Croce v. New York Times Co." on Justia Law

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Ohio Revised Code 4123.88 addresses how workers' compensation claimant information is handled and protected by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and contains the solicitation ban at issue: “No person shall directly or indirectly solicit authority” (1) to “represent the claimant or employer in respect of” a worker’s compensation “claim or appeal,” or (2) “to take charge of” any such claim or appeal. The district court rejected Bevan's challenge on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that the state has prohibited all solicitation, whether oral or written, by any person to represent a party with respect to an Ohio workers’ compensation claim or appeal and that such a prophylactic ban violates the First Amendment under the Supreme Court’s 1988 "Shapero" decision. The court rejected an argument that the constitutionally questionable language is part of a larger statutory scheme that Bevan allegedly violated by obtaining claimant information from the Bureau in an unlawful manner. Whether Bevan violated other statutory provisions governing disclosure of claimant information is not relevant to whether the solicitation ban itself is constitutional. The solicitation ban makes no distinction as to how the person doing the soliciting learned of the claimant’s information: it bans all solicitation regardless of where or how that information was obtained. The prohibition is repugnant to the First Amendment's free speech clause. View "Bevan & Associates, LPA v. Yost" on Justia Law

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Louisiana-Pacific produces “engineered-wood” building siding—wood treated with zinc borate, a preservative that poisons termites; Hardie sells fiber-cement siding. To demonstrate the superiority of its fiber cement, Hardie initiated an advertising campaign called “No Wood Is Good,” proclaiming that customers ought to realize that all wood siding—however “engineered”—is vulnerable to damage by pests. Its marketing materials included digitally-altered images and video of a woodpecker perched in a hole in Louisiana-Pacific’s siding with nearby text boasting both that “Pests Love It,” and that engineered wood is “[s]ubject to damage caused by woodpeckers, termites, and other pests.” Louisiana-Pacific sued Hardie, alleging false advertising, and moved for a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Louisiana-Pacific failed to show that it would likely succeed in proving the advertisement unambiguously false under the Lanham Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. View "Louisiana-Pacific Corp. v. James Hardie Building Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s order granting a preliminary injunction that had enjoined Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government from enforcing Ordinance 25-2017, which restricts the delivery of “unsolicited written materials” to six enumerated locations and provides for civil penalties for violations. On remand, further proceedings were taken in the district court. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court in concluding that Ordinance 25-2017 constitutes a valid time, place, and manner regulation of speech. View "Lexington H-L Services, Inc. v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring another 53. Victims and family members of deceased victims brought sought damages, not from Mateen, nor from ISIS, the international terrorist organization that allegedly motivated Mateen through social media, but from social media giants Twitter, Facebook, and Google under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Plaintiffs alleged ISIS used those social media platforms to post propaganda and “virtually recruit” Americans to commit terrorist attacks. Mateen allegedly viewed ISIS-related material online, became “self-radicalized,” and carried out the shooting. Following the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility. The complaint alleged aiding and abetting international terrorism, 18 U.S.C. 2333; conspiracy in furtherance of terrorism; providing material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. 2339A, 2339B(a)(1); negligent infliction of emotional distress; and wrongful death The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Plaintiffs’ complaint includes no allegations that Twitter, Facebook, or Google had any direct connection to Mateen or his action. Plaintiffs did not suggest that those defendants provided “material support” to Mateen. Without these connections, Plaintiffs cannot state a viable claim under the Act. View "Crosby v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a rally for then-presidential candidate Trump, the Chicago Tribune newspaper posted a photograph on Twitter of a woman at the rally, wearing a Trump T-shirt, and giving a Nazi salute. A Twitter user posted that photograph, with a photograph of Boulger, with the false statement, “The ‘Trump Nazi’ is Portia Boulger, who runs the Women for Bernie Sanders Twitter account. It’s another media plant.” The actor and producer James Woods tweeted the same pictures, adding: Woods had more than 350,000 Twitter followers. News outlets identified the woman in the Nazi salute photograph as Peterson. Woods instead tweeted a follow-up: “Various followers have stated that the Nazi Salute individual and the #Bernie campaign woman are NOT the same person.” Boulger requested a retraction. Woods deleted the tweet and posted: “I have an opportunity to clarify something I challenged immediately when it hit Twitter. Portia A. Boulger was NOT the ‘Nazi salute lady.’” and ” “Though she supports @BernieSanders, I am happy to defend her from abuse. I only wish his supporters would do the same.” Boulger “received hundreds of obscene and threatening messages, including death threats.” Boulger sued for defamation and invasion of privacy under Ohio law. The district court extended the service deadline to August 7, Woods filed an answer on June 7, asserting insufficient service of process. The district court found that Woods waived his jurisdictional defenses but granted Woods judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the ambiguity of Woods’s tweet. Because Woods’s tweet could reasonably be read to have an innocent meaning, under the innocent construction rule the tweet, as a matter of law, is not actionable. Woods’s actions waived the jurisdictional issue. View "Boulger v. Woods" on Justia Law

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In October 2014, Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a debate between the candidates for one of Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate. KET limited the debate to candidates who qualified for the ballot, had collected at least $100,000 in campaign contributions, and had an independent poll indicating that at least one in 10 Kentuckians planned to vote for them. The criteria excluded Patterson, the Libertarian Party candidate. The district court rejected a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by Patterson and the Party, noting that, with relatively few limits, KET could invite to its debates whomever it wanted. KET was not required to create—let alone publish—any criteria at all. KET restricted who could appear in a televised debate, not on the ballot. The debate criteria had nothing to do with a candidate’s views; rather, they measured whether voters had shown an objective interest in hearing the candidate. View "Libertarian National Committee, Inc. v. Holiday" on Justia Law

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Fulton’s Linden, Michigan dental practice filed a purported class action, alleging that it received a fax from Defendants that was an unsolicited advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, that failed to include the requisite opt-out provision. The district court dismissed, finding that the fax was not an advertisement under the TCPA. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Fulton plausibly alleged that the fax was an unsolicited advertisement by alleging that the fax served as a pretext to send Fulton additional marketing materials. The fax stated that it was a Fax Verification Request to update contact information for sending clinical summaries, prescription renewals, and other sensitive communications. The fax provided space for recipients either to validate or update contact information. It had a signature line and room for comments and included a phone number and a URL for a website of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Fulton’s allegation that providing verified contact information paves the way for Defendants’ customers to “send additional marketing faxes to recipients” finds some support in the FAQs, which confirm that Defendants’ customers use the system to “invite [providers] to become part of a provider network” and “send[] important notifications,” among “other uses.” View "Fulton v. Enclarity, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law

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The 1993 Lucasville Prison Riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility began when prisoners overpowered a guard and took his keys. Rioting prisoners ultimately took a dozen guards hostage and gained complete control of the prison’s L-block. The riot continued for 11 days; one guard and nine prisoners were murdered. Many were injured. Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage was done to the prison facility. Four prisoners were sentenced to death for their involvement in the riot and are classified as restricted population inmates, who “pose a direct threat to the safety of persons, including themselves, or an elevated, clear[,] and ongoing threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility. The Media Plaintiffs are professional journalists who unsuccessfully sought in-person, recorded interviews with the Prisoner Plaintiffs for the twentieth anniversary of the riot. The Prisoners and Media Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the interview denials violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they were based on the interviews’ anticipated content. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of their claims after considering the “Turner factors” to determine that the prison regulation is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and therefore constitutional. There is a rational connection between a policy prohibiting face-to-face interviews with Lucasville participants and the legitimate, neutral penological interest of prison security. The impact of accommodation of the right and the availability of ready alternatives also support the restrictions’ constitutionality. View "Hanrahan v. Mohr" on Justia Law

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During a campaign rally at Louisville’s Kentucky International Convention Center, then-candidate Trump spoke for 35 minutes. Plaintiffs attended the rally with the intention of peacefully protesting. Protesters’ actions during Trump’s video-recorded address precipitated directions from Trump on five different occasions to “get ’em out of here.” Members of the audience assaulted, pushed and shoved plaintiffs. Plaintiff Brousseau was punched in the stomach. Defendants Heimbach and Bamberger participated in the assaults. Plaintiffs sued Trump, the campaign, Heimbach, Bamberger, and an unknown woman who punched Brousseau, for battery, assault, incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. The district court dismissed claims against the Trump defendants alleging they were vicariously liable for the actions of Heimbach, Bamberger and the unknown woman, and dismissed a negligent-speech theory as “incompatible with the First Amendment” but refused to dismiss the incitement-to-riot claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that the claim should be dismissed. Plaintiffs have not stated a valid claim under Kentucky law, given the elements of “incitement to riot.” Trump’s speech enjoys First Amendment protection because he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action. Trump’s “get ’em out of here” statement, closely followed by, “Don’t hurt ’em,” cannot be interpreted as advocating a riot or the use of any violence. View "Nwanguma v. Trump" on Justia Law